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United States v. Rodriguez

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

June 27, 2019




         This matter comes to the Court on Defendant Jesse Rodriguez's Motion for Severance from All Defendants. Dkt. 212. The United States of America has filed an opposition in response. Dkt. 213. The Court DENIES the motion.


         On April 26, 2018, Defendant Jesse Rodriguez was charged in Counts One, Two, and Twelve of a multi-defendant, twelve-count indictment. Dkt. 1. Count One relates to a racketeering conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); Count Two involves a drug trafficking conspiracy in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(C); and Count Twelve relates to maintaining a drug premises and aiding and abetting in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 856(a)(1) and (b) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Count One implicates seven defendants, including Jesse Rodriguez's brother, Jordan Rodriguez. Defendant moves to sever his trial from that of his co-defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14(a). Dkt. 212.


         As a general rule, individuals who are charged together should also be tried together, particularly in conspiracy cases. See United States v. Chavez, 584 F.3d 1354, 1360 (11th Cir. 2009). In considering a motion to sever, a district court must “balance the prejudice that a defendant may suffer from a joint trial, against the public's interest in judicial economy and efficiency.” United States v. Knowles, 66 F.3d 1146, 1158 (11th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). To prevail on a motion for severance, a defendant must show that they would suffer from “compelling prejudice” from the joinder. Martinez v. United States, Nos. 09-cv-22374, 07-cr-20252, 2010 WL 4813805, at *7 (S.D. Fla. May 5, 2010) (citation omitted). A defendant, however, does not suffer compelling prejudice simply because much of the evidence at trial applies only to co-defendants. United States v. Abbell, 926 F.Supp. 1545, 1552 (S.D. Fla. 1996) (citing United States v. Smith, 918 F.2d 1501, 1509-10 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         In his motion, Defendant argues first that this Court should sever his trial from his co-defendants' trial because he will be severely prejudiced by the introduction of evidence at trial which has “no relation to him.” Dkt. 212 at 5. Secondly, the defense argues that a jury will have considerable difficulty separating Jesse Rodriguez's alleged acts in furtherance of the conspiracy from those of his co-defendant brother, Jordan Rodriguez. Id. at 6. The Court finds neither argument compelling.

         Defendant's motion relies on the fact that because, unlike his co-defendants, Jesse Rodriguez was not charged with murder in furtherance of the conspiracy, a joint trial will unduly prejudice him. However, Defendant has not met the “heavy” burden of demonstrating compelling prejudice. See United States v. Aiken, 76 F.Supp.2d 1346, 1356 (S.D. Fla. 1999). Even if he has shown prejudice, such prejudice would not outweigh the public's interest in trying Defendant and his co-conspirators together.

         The government argues that severance is improper because, under Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640, 646-48 (1946), a defendant's guilt may derive not just from his own acts but also from acts of his co-conspirators. Dkt. 213 at 6; see United States v. Baldwin, 774 F.3d 711, 727 (11th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted) (“A defendant may be held responsible for the reasonably foreseeable acts of his co-conspirators in furtherance of [a] conspiracy.”). While the government could present evidence of crimes for which Defendant is perhaps not directly responsible, such evidence nonetheless would possibly relate to crimes for which the “enterprise”-the criminal organization of which Defendant allegedly is a member-is directly responsible.

         In any event, such large evidentiary overlap is the nature of RICO conspiracy cases and not grounds for severance. As the First Circuit articulately explained:

By their nature, RICO cases involve many defendants, sometimes with family relationships, and often include multiple repulsive acts. There are ways, with skillful trial management and diligent counsel, to prevent these risks from growing into actual harm. . . . .
Such uneasiness is inherent in joint RICO trials, and the unsavoriness of one's co-defendant (including past criminal conduct) is not enough, by itself, to mandate severance.

United States v. DeCologero, 530 F.3d 36, 52-53 (1st Cir. 2008).

         Accordingly, the Court disagrees that a murder charge and the charges Defendant faces differ so much in culpability as to compel severance-especially in a racketeering case. See Aiken, 76 F.Supp.2d at 1350 (citation omitted) (denying motions for severance in RICO conspiracy cases involving murder where the acts alleged in ...

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